In our new Tell Your Story series, we’ll be featuring stories of those who have experienced or have been impacted by problem gambling.
Coming full circle. Here’s Diane’s story.
Gambling took me to hell and back.
This statement isn’t an exaggeration. Problem gambling led to my disbarment as an attorney and destroyed my professional reputation. I ended up spending two years in a Connecticut prison. My recovery has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I’ve been fortunate to find some incredible resources and people in my journey.
I never expected gambling to become a dominating force in my life. My family doesn’t have problems with gambling or a history of addiction. I’ve never had trouble with drinking or drugs. Casino gambling was something I came across by a fluke.
To fuel my gambling problem, I did some of the worst things an attorney can do. I betrayed my clients, took money from them, and spent it all on high-stakes bets. I got caught and charged with fraud.
With severe legal consequences on the line, my lawyers urged me into seeking recovery. I’m glad they did. They found an inpatient program with a wide range of treatment options. There, I went to my first Gamblers Anonymous (GA) meetings. Recovery wasn’t and still isn’t day-to-day for me; it’s one breath at a time, one minute at a time. But if it wasn’t for that program, I don’t think I would’ve survived.
At the inpatient program, I also met Cheryl Jenkins, the program’s clinical director. I’ll never forget one of our first conversations. She told me, “I believe in you. You can and will survive this challenge.” Cheryl was the first person that told me I could do it.
I believed Cheryl and started to put in the work. After the inpatient program, I started going to GA meetings three to four times a week. Eventually, my case went through the legal system, I served my time, and I got released. I got good support in prison, between regular GA meetings and a counselor who would come to meet with me weekly.
However, my gambling past hindered my job search after prison. I had a felony conviction. I couldn’t figure out how to apply for jobs. How could I explain that I had a law degree and wanted to work in a coffee shop?
The number of disappointments and rejections left me feeling ashamed and guilty. After doing horrible things, I didn’t feel like I deserved anything good in my life. Mentally, I took about 12 years to come to terms with what I had done and how far I had fallen. I had thrown away a career as a successful attorney for problem gambling, and I had to move forward.
The good news is that I continued going to Gamblers Anonymous and soon got connected with The Massachusetts Council for Gaming and Health. I knew they would understand. To my immense relief, they did.
These resources became my lifelines and helped me gain ground in my recovery. As a person who likes to learn, I read everything I could about the addiction, which brought about a progressive character change.
That said, I struggled with finding steady work with my prior convictions — until one day when a familiar voice came back into my life.
I was working in construction across New England, driving home from a job site and half-listening to talk radio. Suddenly, I realized I knew the voice speaking: Cheryl Jenkins. I remember my jaw dropping in shock. Cheryl was now the program director of services in my area! I called her up that next day and sure enough, she was. She was here to help.
Cheryl connected me with another disbarred lawyer and recovering problem gambler. He had successfully gotten a job at a nonprofit and was doing meaningful work. He told me about peer counselors, who support folks in recovery.
I was immediately interested in becoming a peer counselor. The most shameful things in my life experience could become an asset and help people. I began working as a peer counselor for other behavioral health issues and after a few months of patient waiting, a part-time job to support problem gamblers in recovery opened up. I went from part-time to a full-time position shortly after that. No more job searches!
Today, I work with people who are struggling with gambling and in many ways, my work has come full circle. I draw upon my skills as a former attorney because I can advise them about bankruptcy, which was my area of practice. And I even had the opportunity to prep a woman who had done similar things to what I had done as an employee at a law firm. In court, the judge allowed me to share remarks as an “expert” on how gambling is truly a disorder, which helped shave two years off her sentence. I had gone from the front of the courtroom to the back and to the front again.
Thanks to the Massachusetts Council and people like Cheryl, I’ve been in recovery now for almost 20 years. If you’re struggling, know that kind people are working with and treating problem gambling as an addiction. Find out what services are available in your state and where the Gamblers Anonymous meetings are. Ask someone to go with you. Talk about it and find someone who understands.
Get help today. Call the Massachusetts Council’s GamLine at 1-800-GAM-1234 or talk to professionals on LiveChat, 24/7 at MACGH.org.